Late last week Gawker posted a story outing correspondence between users thought to be “leadership” members of the internet hacker and activist group Anonymous, one previously referred to in the press as non-hierarchical. In the chat logs, a clear chief can be seen giving orders to his fellow “anons” as the small group takes credit for hacking the emails of computer security firm HBGary and ravaging the security of Gawker.com back in December. The chat logs have since been revealed in full, leaked to the press by both dissident Anonymous members and journalists working to learn more about the group. With its profile raised amid fervent support for Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and rebellion in the Middle East, plus battles with the Westboro Church and appearances on The Colbert Report, Anonymous is having something of a moment. But for a secretive group working illegally, that may not be a good thing.
Anonymous was born of the chaotic message board 4chan, which not only received an in-depth profile in the April issue of Vanity Fair, but will also be the subject of a book announced this afternoon by a young New York City writer. The sect known now as Anonymous broke away in 2008 after a much-lauded attack on Scientology and has since exploded, resulting in both a spate of media coverage and attention from law enforcement, which arrested a few (usually teenage) hackers worldwide.
But never has the group been exposed like in the recent Gawker post, which uses internal chat logs from a channel called #HQ, where a few key members discuss future attacks, debate how they should handle the media coverage and congratulate one another on a jobs well done. The discussions corroborate facts long known by outsiders, but they also clear the air on some misconceptions, like the aforementioned leadership claims, and the belabored point that Gnosis, the group that took down Gawker, is in fact Anonymous-affiliated.
In its support of WikiLeaks, Anonymous has worked to crash the websites of PayPal, Mastercard and anyone else hindering Assange’s operation. But for their part, WikiLeaks has always worked to keep their distance from the hackers, a relationship further complicated in the leaked chats, where an Anonymous member is revealed as also being a WikiLeaks volunteer.
In a distinctly un-Gawker move, the site opted not to publish the real identities of the users in the chat, provided by the Anonymous defectors, because they “couldn’t connect the handles to the names provided with any certainty.” Still, the FBI reportedly has the same information, so a doomsday could be looming for the group.
“The bastards are becoming arrogant sociopaths,” said one dissenting Anonymous member to Gawker, justifying his leaks. “Acting first, not thinking of the consequences. They’re recruiting children. I am a pretty far left person — I believe in privacy and free expression, but Anonymous is a vigilante group now. A mob without conscience. And I worry they will radicalize even more. In short, I believe they’re on their way to becoming a genuine threat.”
If they’re as amorphous as they’ve always claimed to be, Anonymous will easily weather any coming crackdowns and their new, higher profile. But if efforts are more concentrated, as these leaked conversations indicate, they might just be battening down the hatches. For now.
Inside Anonymous’ Secret War Room [Gawker]
4chan’s Chaos Theory [Vanity Fair]
Statement On The Exposure Of Anonymous Hackers By Gawker [Producer Matthew]